Challenges facing liberal arts college libraries

Reference Collection at Colorado College's Tutt Library

In the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be interviewed for leadership roles in other academic libraries. One example was for a peer institution, where I was asked to present my perspectives on challenges facing liberal arts college libraries to a wider audience during my on campus interview.

As is usually the case in these situations, I had a limited timeframe in which to speak, so I chose only three challenges and then provided some ideas for solving them before inviting responses from the audience.

Here is what I came up with for challenges:

  • Relevance
  • Cost
  • Technology

Here is what I came up with for solutions to those challenges:

  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Cooperate

By communicate, I meant that we should do better at communicating our valuable contributions to student success; highlight how the library is an essential part of attracting the best and brightest students; and share not just key statistics of how heavily our resources and services are used, but more importantly, tell compelling stories. We also must ensure that we create a shared vision that complements that of the broader organizational environment in which we operate.

We won’t succeed unless we collaborate well within and outside of the library organization. For example, we should strive to integrate with the curriculum as much as possible; support and amplify faculty research and publication; and lean heavily on resource sharing networks in partnership with other libraries. We should also create a culture of exceptional service to our users and while fostering advanced technological expertise, we must be sure to make technology simple for users.

Finally, I emphasized the importance of cooperative endeavors, especially with regard to consortial buying power for e-resources, shared collections and staffing resources, and participating in the movement toward all things open: open access, open source, open educational resources, and so on.

The presentation was well received but as it happened, I didn’t end up with that particular job. I’d be interested in any feedback on the themes I highlighted. Those who operate in academic libraries should already be quite familiar with them and may have other ideas of themes to highlight.

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